My first boyhood visit to Searstown has been lost to the mists of time, but it seems safe to assume it probably involved something like buying paint.
I mean, I wouldn’t have been buying the paint myself. I would have been accompanying my dad on some weekend morning paint-buying expedition. The way home might have also involved the Dixie Highway Bennett Auto Supply and, if I begged enough, the Commercial Boulevard Dunkin Donuts. Don’t look for any of these places on Yelp by the way; they’re all gone. (Although I hear you can get Dunkin at several newer locations.)
Landmarks come in many shapes and sizes. In our city named for a fort that was actually three forts, none of which exist anymore, we sometimes take our history in whatever sort of dose it arrives. Searstown today is finally shuttered and soon to be no more. I’d reference its faded grandeur, although frankly that grandeur was already fairly faded when I was turning off Saturday morning cartoons to go accompany my dad on weekend errands. Soon, something else will sit there; in this, our Development Issue, Mike Seemuth looks at what that might be, as well as what else might happen along the increasingly sought-after Federal Highway corridor north of downtown.
But as we consider what comes next, it’s also worth considering what we’re losing. It’s easy to forget now, but Searstown is a landmark.
Literally, in one sense. For decades it’s been the big, obvious entrance to central Fort Lauderdale. Federal Highway has two no-you-will-not-run-this-road-through-Victoria-Park bends bookended by landmarks built just a few years apart. (By the time Searstown came along in 1955, the Gateway Cinema was already four years old.)
But it’s a landmark for other reasons. Say the words “strip mall” today and you risk derisive laughter from the snowbird transplants who roll their eyes at everything but never seem to leave. But with its outdoor breezeways and sweeping lines, this was revolutionary architecture for its time. It wasn’t some big northern building slapped down in the subtropics by New Yorkers who didn’t know any better; it was a South Florida development made with South Florida in mind.
Things change; nostalgia, as the saying goes, ain’t what it used to be. And if we want to accommodate our still-growing population without working people being priced out entirely by soaring rents, we need to have more housing, more density, more places in the city where people can live.
But necessary change can sit alongside respect for what’s being lost. Searstown was Fort Lauderdale’s, made for us rather than made for somewhere else and hammered in here.
It’s a Fort Lauderdale landmark. And they sold a good can of paint.